What is a Retinal Detachment?

If you’ve ever peeled wallpaper, you have some idea what a retinal detachment looks like—the eye’s inner lining (retina) detaches from the eye’s wall. Usually, a retinal tear precedes this, but retinal scarring or growths can cause other types of retinal detachment. Since the retina is what senses light, a detached retina can result in permanent vision loss unless treated quickly.

What are the Risk Factors?

If you have a family history of retinal tears or detachments, moderate to extreme nearsightedness, retinal thinning (lattice degeneration,) diabetes, or a recent eye injury, any of these factors increases your risk of a retinal tear. If that’s you, we recommend regular screening exams, as laser procedures can sometimes reduce the detachment risk.

What are the Symptoms?

Pain is often our first indicator of a health problem, but since the retina can’t sense pain, you must watch for other symptoms. Usually, one eye suddenly experiences flashes or floaters before a retinal detachment actually occurs; these symptoms correlate with a retinal tear about 3-5% of the time. If a curtain seems to come over your vision, this indicates an actual detachment.

How is a Retinal Detachment Diagnosed?

If you’re experiencing any of the above indicators, it’s critical to visit an eye doctor within 48 hours, especially if the symptoms are severe. A thorough dilated eye exam is the only way to diagnose a retinal detachment; if one is detected, you’ll be referred to a retinal specialist.

How is a Retinal Detachment Treated?

According to Dr. Wisner, “Each retinal detachment is different because treatment depends on the exact cause, extent, and features of the retinal detachment. In some cases, it can be treated with an in-office procedure (laser retinopexy or retinal pneumopexy with cryotherapy) or surgery in the operating room (vitrectomy or scleral buckle procedure). In general, the more profound the detachment, the more intense the procedure, and the sooner the detachment is diagnosed, the better the final recovery. Patient recovery can be slow, and it can be possible to need a second procedure.”

How much should I worry?

Not much at all! It’s normal for some people to have occasional or brief flashes or floaters as they age. Should those symptoms last for hours or progressively grow worse, that’s when it’s vital to get an eye exam from a trusted ophthalmologist as soon as possible.

A photo of an eye where retinal detachment may be causing issues.